HENRY VALENTINE 1996 on the Bill Hames Show playing at Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wyoming

 

Please note that I had no idea who Mr Valentine was when I began talking with him. To me he was a kindly old gentleman who’d “been around” the carnival business and was willing to share some of his stories and knowledge with me. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that Henry Valentine was extremely knowledgeable. Much later, when I told others more knowledgeable about the sideshow world about my meeting with Henry and gathering from their excitement, did I truly comprehend who I had interviewed was a legend.

 

As told to me sitting in a couple of folding chairs amongst the cacophony of the Midway at the Cheyenne Frontier Days where the Bill Hames Show was booked in 1996.

 

“Somebody asked me what I like about this business and I said it’s another way of making a living to keep out of work. It’s also a business that they don’t force you to retire.

 

When I was growing up, we were taken to the carnival every time it came to town, and naturally, we were taken to the sideshow.

 

I tell people, “I’m not a carne, I’m a showman”. There’s Showmen Leagues all across America. All of these organizations have drives for Cancers funds, Christmas funds; where they take donations from the carnival people and buy presents for the needy around the holidays.

 

I started out in 1939 and I worked in the concessions. Then I transferred over to the ‘Monkey Show’. Back then, you had your different shows, like your girl shows and your circus sideshows and your snake shows and your athletic shows. They all had talkers out in front of the shows except the Merry Go Round. A lot of carnivals carried calliopes.

 

Some of the shows carried someone who actually played it.

 

When I transferred off the concessions into the monkey shows, I eventually learned how to train monkeys. The fella that I worked for had the monkeys that were Hollywood monkeys that had made movies. He had a high diving monkey, and he had a monkey that walked on stilts that was 25ft high. He had monkeys that did trapeze and walked high wire. They put on a regular show. I worked on that for 2 years. Then I was up for the army. I hadn’t passed the physical and by then I had gotten married so I went back to my wife’s home town and there, the Dodson's World Fairs Show was playing. So I went to work on a ride.

 

There was an opening on the circus sideshow for a ticket seller so I transferred over to the circus sideshows. My wife traveled with me. That was my first wife. I worked for that fella for 9 years.  We advertised 19 acts and not one of them was an illusion. They were what we call ‘working acts’. We had sword swallowers, fire eaters, knife throwers, and of course working around the sideshow I learned to do most all of it.

 

I’ve worked around some of the most outstanding freaks in the business. On that show (Dodson's World Fairs), we had ‘TamTam the Leopard Man’. He was a fellow out of Beaumont Texas, and he got up one morning a noticed a white spot on his hand and as time went by the white spots grew and they appeared all over his body. The last time I saw him he was 75,76 years old and he was almost totally white. We had ‘Alzor the Turtle Girl’. She had 4 toes on one foot and one on the other and 6 fingers on each hand, and they were attached to her body. They were real short and she could draw them up into her body like a Turtle and that’s the way she got around, she walked  on all fours- just like a turtle. Then we had the Seal Girl-hands growing right out of her shoulders but she did everything that anybody else could do. And we had another one of Ripley’s Characters, that was called a ‘Rubber Skinned Dog. A red boned hound that had skin that hung down to the floor and you could stretch it like rubber. And we had a very good magician. And a fellow named ‘Bozo, the monkey Man’. He was a pinhead. He was black and his arms were all deformed and he had about the mentality of a 5 year old child. He had to have someone to watch over him and care for him. He’d get up there on stage and he’d holler, he’d eat glass, razor blades. Anything you give him that was shinny, he’d eat. Cigarette butts, he was quite a draw!.

 

I’m not a barker- I’m a talker- a barker is just an old expression from way back yonder. They don’t call them barkers, they called them talkers back in ‘42,’43.

 

The country was in war- the whole industry couldn’t get any help.  I went to work in ‘42 as a ticket seller. In ‘43 I came back and the boss was the one talking on the show cause we couldn’t get any workers due to the war. One of the fellas made an ‘opening’, telling the crowd what was in the show. He got the people up on the bally platform. One time he just handed me the mic and told me to talk.

 

In 1944 I came back out to the show and they had a contest of all the different talkers. I was considered to be one of the best sideshow talkers in the business. That’s how I then made my living. I once talked so hard at the Ohio State fair that up on the bally I got a hernia. You really put everything into it. There isn’t a person that stands out in the audience that I don’t stare right at them. I was told that you couldn’t make other people believe it if you couldn’t believe it yourself.

 

In 1950, I met Frank Lantini.  He had 3 legs and 24 toes. He used to kick around a football with his 3rd leg. I was just interested in different things like that ever since I can remember.

 

Also on the show was the ossified man-Harry Lewis- he was slowly turning to stone.

That’s what they said-he couldn’t move he couldn’t do anything. They had an alligator skin woman. Henry Blasic was the pinhead. I got to be real good friends with Frank- he didn’t get to finish the season. They took him back to Fla. Where they performed surgery.

Between his right leg and his 3rd leg, there was a little body and they had to remove this. The way they explained this was that this body had died and it was beginning to decay and poisoning his system so they removed this extra body. When they removed it, he lost part control of his 3rd leg like he had before. He recovered and then decided to take out his own show and asked me to work for him. We worked together for 4 years. He was supposed to be triplets, he was also triple sexed- two males and a female. He was very easy to get along and he was married to a German and a real good cook. After 2 years he went into Coney Island and I went with him and worked in the big museum for one season.

In Coney Island, they had what they call an annex attraction- they had this girl in her 40’s- her name was Mary Lewchinski but they called her ‘Serpentina the Serpent ‘. She had no bones in her body except her skull. Any position you put her in she had to stay in that position. Her legs were twisted around and she had very short fingers. They carried her around in an old fashion baby carriage. But here was a woman who never frowned. She always had a smile on her face. She didn’t have a rib cage. No vertebrae.  Many people went to court to block these folks and keep them from earning their living exhibiting themselves. This is how they made their living, and they lived very normal lives.

 

I belonged to the Gibtown showman’s club. They used to have a seal boy, Johanne the biking giant. Pricilla the monkey girl still lives there that I know of. Dolly Regan, half lady, half baby, lived there.

 

I met Ward Hall back in the 40’s on the Bailey Brothers Circus. He was working as a magician and ventriloquist. Later on he got his own show. He’s always building something bigger and better.

 

As I always say, there’s just as many freaks that are born now as there was back in the old days. But they’re kept in state hospitals, or they’re, well, let me put it this way, some are disposed of at birth. It got harder to get people that way because the state would take care of them, I shouldn’t say the state, we (meaning the tax payers) take care of them. Where back in the old days, they were given a chance to work and go out and make a living on their own. They were happier that way. And there is some of the states that try to out law that. There were some of them that went to court and they won the battle. They were trying to deprive them of making a living. But now most of them are all passed on and so you resort to the museums to give the people some idea of what the world did contain.

 

I saw the movie ‘Freaks’, ‘Being Different”, and ‘I am not a Freak’. In the movie, ‘Being Different’, they had a lot of the modern day freaks, and in ‘I am not a Freak’, some of the people who were born different, but they were living a normal life, they weren’t out on the road making a living.

 

I was working for a company that was called ‘World Attractions Inc.”. They had big circus sideshows. I was the manager of one of them. I was also the manager of a big Illusion show. This was back in 1976,77. They played the better fairs of the country, ‘hopscotching’, around the country. Then they discontinued the sideshow and turned it into a museum. I managed that until 9 years ago. They wanted to sell it and I bought it.

 

I had my own sideshow for a few years. Then gave it up to work in a factory where I met my wife. We stayed there till all the kids were grown up. We had 3 boys and 4 girls.  I taught my middle boy to swallow swords. He has 4 tattoo shops in Texas and he also has some kind of a show he puts on called ‘The Bloodfest’. He’s into the body piercing and they put on these shows where they suspend from body parts. Everyone of my kids have been in the business except the oldest.

 

It was so hard to get help for the sideshows. Most shows now a days, have Illusions instead of freaks.

 

The movie  'Freaks' was made back in 35 or 36’. It was a very good movie up to a certain point. I thought that it was wrong, because at the end of the movie. The aerialist was turned into a freak, and that was done, it was an illusion. And I thought that that lowered the impact of the picture.

 

There’s been a lot of changes on the modern carnival. They run it more like a business now then it used to. I think that it’s taken the fun out of it. I used to have fun. Lets put it this way, we were all like one big happy family.  We had picnics together. We had ball games. On our days off we always found something to do. And every week we would have a meeting that if anybody had any problems they could discuss the problems. It was like one big happy family. People didn’t move around like they do now.

 

Another thing about the business that’s changed back when I first joined a show there was no hydraulics- everything was man handled. Instead of the Merry Go Round being on a trailer you had to put down ground mounts, including the Ferris wheel. There’d be 3 regular men and they hired green help to come in a set up and tear down.  Back then a ride man would draw $20 a week. Sometimes they’d be paid in brass, which they could take to the cook house. Every carnival used to have a big cook house, like a restaurant, but  you’d pay for that food with the brass.

 

When we played the Texas State Fair. We played 16 days. we’d open at 7am in the morning and close at 2am the next morning. And of course you’d have to restock once you closed and so by the time you finished that it’d be time to open up again. I went for 16 days and 16 nights without any sleep. For 2 dollars a day. I was given 2 15-minute breaks each day.

 

I don’t know, we seemed to all enjoy the business back then.

 

And now, I don’t know, there’s just something that’s different about it.

 

A visit with Henry Valentine by Virginia Lee Hunter

 


Photographs

1 Henry Valentine 1996

2 Henry's ID card from the Dodson's World Fair Shows

3 Ray Cramer's Sideshow

4 Henry, Cliff and Mamie King

5 International Congress of Oddities

6 Kiddie Wheel

7 Eli Wheel

 

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